Sunday, 19 January 2014

Ayr 14 Jersey 13

Mud, blood, scuffles and ripped shirts featured as Ayr gritted their teeth and forced their way to the finish line against Jersey in their final tie in the British and Irish Cup.

The pitch at Millbrae was soggy, to say the least, and as the teams ran on to the sound of a piper in the stand, it was clear there wouldn't be a lot of backs play.

There was a general feeling of unfinished business for Ayr after a disappointing loss against Jersey in October, and even if the conditions were awful, the home side were determined to sign off with a win.  Unfortunately, the first quarter didn't go to plan.

Both teams had wonky kicks and dodgy passes early on, and Jersey received a ticking off from the referee for some unsavoury goings-on in the scrum.  Despite nice hands from Ayr captain Dean Kelbrick and stand-off Finn Russell, they couldn't get anything going. 

Jersey launched the first proper attack of note through outside centre Drew Locke, although he couldn't escape the clutches of Ayr scrum-half Peter Jericevich.  Prop Gordon Reid and lock Callum Templeton also had to put in big tackles to halt the visitors' attacking efforts.

It rapidly went downhill for Ayr at ten minutes when second row Scott Sutherland was sin-binned for dangerous play at the line-out.  Even when he had been on, the home team was under pressure from Jersey at the set pieces, and without Sutherland to steady the ship, things were getting rocky.

Jersey went for the pushover try but Ayr did well to hold them up.  The visitors then camped out on Ayr's five-metre line and had scrum after scrum until the referee made the jog of doom to the posts, thrust his hand in the air and blew the whistle for a penalty try, which winger Grant Pointer easily converted.  0-7.

To further compound Ayr's misery, Jericevich was yellow-carded for unknown reasons, and with Sutherland still off the pitch, it wasn't looking good for the men in pink and black.

However, every sound of the whistle seemed to fire up the crowd, who had been quite quiet by Millbrae standards, and they roared on their players, who knuckled down to some doughty play. 

Flanker Graham Fisken led from the front and full back Grant Anderson was looking for gaps.  An attack from the backs saw the ball sail past winger Robbie Fergusson and land on the touchline.

There were knocks-on from both and a few forward passes from Jersey, and finding touch proved fruitless, with Jersey taking the quick line-out and Jericevich, now back on, demonstrating some lovely volleyball skills to keep the ball in play.

It was Anderson's trademark strong running that gave Ayr their first chance at a score.  He bashed several defenders out of the way as he barrelled up the touchline but lost the ball as he crossed the line. 

Ayr regrouped and worked their way into Jersey's twenty-two.  It looked as though replacement prop Nick Cox, on for a bloodied Reid, would barge over but Jersey's defence was strong.  Number eight Peter McCallum spotted the gap and pounced for Ayr's first try just at half-time.  Russell added the conversion.  7-7.

Jersey got the jitters at the restart, knocking on and then giving away a penalty in a kickable position.  Ayr centre Mark Bennett stepped up but it just drifted wide. 

The home side seemed nervy too, with loose passes and kicks out-on-the-full.  They gave away a penalty at fifty-two minutes and Pointer took the points.  7-10.

That gave the visitors a bit of confidence and lock Nick Campbell, a former Millbrae man, stretched his legs only for Reid to drag him down.  Another penalty kick by Pointer was successful four minutes later.  7-13.

Ayr stayed calm and although Fergusson was doing his best to spin out of tackles and Sutherland and replacement scrum-half Murray McConnell were making inroads, Jersey held firm. 

The home side had a couple of line-outs on Jersey's twenty-two and after what seemed like an age, Anderson found his way over the line, safely grounding the ball this time at sixty-five minutes.  The conversion was from a tricky angle, but Russell made it.  14-13.

Determined to hold on to their slim lead and equally determined to extinguish it, Ayr and Jersey clattered into each other like rutting stags.  Jersey replacement forward Fred Silcock had more than his pride bruised when he was floored by the smallest man on the pitch, Ayr replacement winger Craig Gossman, much to the amazement of the crowd.  Then things really kicked off.

McConnell and his opposite number Nicky Griffiths squared up to each other and a mass wrestle spilled on to the touchline.  McConnell emerged from melee with his shirt in tatters.  Despite stern words from the referee, another scuffle broke out soon after but everyone escaped the sin bin.

Ayr pressed on in the last few minutes with good work from Bennett and Cox, to name but a few.  It was McConnell, now clad in Danny McCluskey's number fourteen shirt, who safely booted the ball off the pitch for the win. 

Final score: Ayr 14 Jersey 13.

- Elena Hogarth.

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